Writing Madness in Indigenous Literature: A Hesitation

  • Erin Soros
Part of the Literary Disability Studies book series (LIDIST)


Written in a series of connected vignettes—or “hesitations”—this essay considers madness in relation to Indigenous literature, specifically Celia’s Song, by Stó:lō writer Lee Maracle, yet it also troubles its own conceptual framework, interrupting and reframing the analysis through the work of other Indigenous authors, scholars, and artists, including Cree scholar and psychologist Jeffrey Ansloos; Tuscarora essayist and story writer Alicia Elliott; Michif and Nishnaabe writer and language advocate Kai Minosh Pyle; Michi Saagiig Nishnaabe writer and singer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson; and Unangax̂ writer and scholar Eve Tuck. Issues addressed include possibilities and limitations of settler literary criticism of Indigenous work; racist ideology in anthropology and psychoanalysis; and Indigenous vocabularies for mental health struggles. What results is not just a reflection of visionary states in Maracle—their relationship to colonial trauma and to ancestral insight—but also a critique of the madness of colonialism itself.



Thank you to the challenging, generous brilliance of all my teachers—a role expansively defined. Your thinking animates my own.

Works Cited

  1. Ansloos, Jeffrey. “Manitou: Indigenous Health, Healing and Futurity.” Presentation, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 2017.Google Scholar
  2. Ansloos, Jeffrey. The Medicine of Peace: Indigenous Youth Decolonizing Healing and Resisting Violence. Fernwood, 2017.Google Scholar
  3. Boisjoly, Raymond. “In Dialogue.” Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, University of Toronto, 2017.Google Scholar
  4. Bracken, Chris. The Potlatch Papers. University of Chicago Press, 1997.Google Scholar
  5. Cariou, Warren. “Who Is the Text in this Class? Story, Archive, and Pedagogy in Indigenous Contexts.” Learn, Teach, Challenge: Approaching Indigenous Literatures, edited by Deanna Reder and Linda M. Morra, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2016.Google Scholar
  6. Doerfler, Jill, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, and Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark, eds. Centering Anishinaabeg Studies: Understanding the World Through Stories. Michigan State University Press, 2013.Google Scholar
  7. Elliott, Alicia. “A Mind Spread Out on the Ground.” Malahat Review, vol. 197, Winter 2017, pp. 47–54.Google Scholar
  8. Gaertner, David. “‘Something in Between’: Monkey Beach and the Haisla Return of the Return of the Repressed.” Canadian Literature, vol. 225, Summer 2015, pp. 47–63.Google Scholar
  9. Hampton, John. Curator talk. “In Dialogue.” Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, University of Toronto, 2017.Google Scholar
  10. Haraway, Donna. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press, 2016.Google Scholar
  11. Justice, Daniel Heath. Why Indigenous Literatures Matter. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier P, 2018.Google Scholar
  12. Maracle, Lee. Celia’s Song. Cormorant Books, 2014.Google Scholar
  13. ———. Presentation to research group, “Decolonial Disruptions: Indigenous Literatures of Turtle Island.” Centre for Indigenous Studies, University of Toronto, 2017.Google Scholar
  14. ———. Private conversation after Katherena Vermette’s reading of The Break. Indigenous Education Week, Centre for Indigenous Studies, University of Toronto, 2017.Google Scholar
  15. ———. Public discussion. Indigenous Literary Studies Association conference, Ethics of Belonging: Protocols, Pedagogies, Land and Stories. Stó:lō Nation, Chilliwack, 2017.Google Scholar
  16. Pyle, Kai Minosh. “Autobiography of an Iceheart.” Prism International, vol. 56, no. 2, Winter 2018, pp. 11–22.Google Scholar
  17. Simpson, Audra. Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States. Durham: Duke UP, 2014.Google Scholar
  18. Simpson, Leanne. Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-creation, Resurgence and a New Emergence. Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2011.Google Scholar
  19. Tuck, Eve. “Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities.” Harvard Educational Review, vol. 79, no. 3, Fall 2009, pp. 409–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Vowel, Chelsea. Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis and Inuit Issues in Canada. Highwater Press, 2016.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erin Soros
    • 1
  1. 1.TorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations